31 December 2004
With the number of those killed in the devastating Asian earthquake and tsunamis rising to over 120,000, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies has put in place what looks set to be its largest emergency relief operation ever.
The initial response by Red Cross and Red Crescent volunteers in the vital first few days of the crisis in evacuating survivors and providing emergency relief materials is being bolstered by an international operation which will assist over two million people in the most vulnerable communities affected by the crisis over the next six months.
Despite difficulties faced by the Red Cross/Red Crescent teams on the ground due to lack of access, transportation and communication, a massive relief effort is under way.
In Indonesia, where some 80,000 lives have been lost, the focus remains on providing shelter and health care. An International Federation field assessment team is in the country to assess the most urgent needs faced by the country, and how best to support the efforts of the Indonesian Red Cross. Five emergency response units (ERUs), specialising in logistics, water and sanitation and basic health care will be in place this weekend. These teams have been provided as part of the Federation’s operation by the Danish, French, German, Japanese and Spanish Red Cross Societies
In Sri Lanka, where over 27,000 people have died and almost 900,000 are displaced, the need for basic shelter and food is immense. Seven flights carrying Red Cross health materials and relief goods from all over the world have already arrived on the island, with four more scheduled to land in Colombo by Friday morning.
Five ERUs specialising in telecommunications, health care, water and sanitation, and logistics are now in place and another three teams with expertise in relief and health care are due to arrive in the next few days.
A Federation field assessment team has arrived in the Maldives, where while destruction was less severe, initial reports indicate that the need for safe water and sanitation is high.
“The main challenge we are facing is to ensure continuity of relief supplies, and guaranteeing the health of these vulnerable communities. This will be easier to achieve with the deployment of our specialised ERUs,” says Mostafa Mohaghegh, operations coordinator for the International Federation. “It is vital we get people under shelter and receiving adequate assistance as quickly as possible to avoid preventable physical and psychological problems.”